A little more than a week ago, a very small minority of Magic fans were calling for Stan Van Gundy to be fired after the team’s collapse against Boston in Game 5. The notion even got some play in the media. Considering the Magic posted back-to-back 50-win seasons and SVG was a prime contender for NBA Coach of the Year, it was a pretty ridiculous argument. And an argument that no longer exists after the Magic are up 1-0 on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 1 was an absolutely incredible coaching performance from SVG. It’s not easy to keep a team fighting when they’re down by 16 in the league’s toughest building to play in, but the Magic never quit. And a lot of that resiliency can be attributed to Van Gundy, who was anything but the Master of Panic on Wednesday night: Consider the following adjustments: 1. The Magic found a way to exploit Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ incredibly slow foot speed on defense by consistently bringing him out to the 3-point line for in pick-and-roll situations. With the Turkoglu/Howard combination on the pick-and-roll (the Magic’s tried and true play that has been used less lately), the Cavs couldn’t stop Turkgolu from penetrating unless they brought a second defender and freed up another shooter – which was a big reason for Turkoglu’s 14 assists (including seven in the fourth quarter). 2. The Cavs stunned the Magic by starting the game with LeBron James on Rafer Alston. This allowed James the ability to freely roam on help defense while leaving alone the Magic’s worst shooter. The Magic had difficulty exploiting the Turkoglu-Delonte West matchup, but they were able to muster up some offense and force Cleveland out of that set. 3. As you’ll see in the following video, Van Gundy encouraged and picked up the team throughout their early deficit. He didn’t get angry, didn’t get on the team – instead, he lifted their spirits and willed them to a comeback. We’re so used to SVG barking at the players with a negative connotation, and the players seemed to really responded to the positivity. It reminded me of Tom Coughlin, who lightened up and saw his New York Giants respond with a Super Bowl victory in 2008.
UPDATE: The Big Train of TPASTBM brings up an excellent point:
Stan Van Gundy has been getting torched by the national media lately. It mostly comes from the fact that they are just now paying attention to this team, and have not been around all year to understand that this is just the way things go. Stan tells it like it is, and him and his players certainly do get mad at each other from time to time. And if you looked past the talking heads on Around the Horn, you would see that SVG is one hell of a basketball coach.